By: Jamie Leigh Broten
former Whatcom Community College student Christen Mattix, 36, has spent the last three years knitting a rope of yarn from 16th Street and Taylor Avenue to Bellingham Bay, a project she calls “For Longing.”
“I started the project May 1, 2012 and I thought it would be a three-month project, tops,” she said. “Now here I am, three years later!”
Mattix’s knitting season begins May 1 of this year, and she said she knits with “ocean” colored yarn until fall for one hour every day, rain or shine.
She said she views her work as a daily practice, not unlike meditation, and hopes to eventually reach Bellingham Bay, 371 feet away, she said. As of now, her rope stretches four blocks long.
After attending Whatcom, she went on to study art and graduated from Western Washington University in 2001, she said. She also attended graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute where she majored in painting and filmmaking.
When she returned to Bellingham for a job teaching art classes at Western, Mattix moved into a home near an abandoned bus stop bench on South Hill. Inspiration struck while she was sitting on the bench that faces Bellingham Bay. The idea came to her to knit a rope of blue yarn all the way to the ocean, and to “connect to the infinite,” she said.
“It bothered me for three months until I gave in,” Mattix said. “I feel like if I had said ‘no’ the inspiration would have gone to someone else.”
This idea that the inspiration would go to someone else isn’t a new one; ancient Greeks and Romans believed that inspiration was a muse that lived all around human beings, waiting for the right person to come around and be inspired. If an idea was ignored, it would find someone else to pursue.
“If you want to be an artist, you need to make sacrifices, especially in the beginning, and take the time to create your work,” Mattix said. “An artist is a servant of the art.”
Mattix said she would like to see more artistic funding for temporary installations, or work that is not necessarily in a museum or gallery, but that brings people together and is “fun, exuberant, and colorful.”
“A focus on artwork that appears as a gift that you might wander upon,” said Mattix.
“My hope is for other people to reach out in creative ways to reach the community where they live and that they will take risks and have fun with it.”
Mattix said she looks at her art as an “urban fairy tale,” adding that people wander and follow her string like Hansel and Gretel following bread crumbs. A description written by Mattix on her blog reads, “Once upon a time, a lady sat here and knit a line to the ocean…”
Mattix said people in the community have reached out to her in many ways. One neighbor lets her keep her yarn wrapped on a hose spool in their garage. Another neighbor and fellow artist, Jeni Cottrell, has supported Mattix’s project and has bought her yarn many times, Mattix said.
Not everyone has been supportive of Mattix’s ambition though. Once someone tugged on Mattix’s rope and ran away with it. Mattix said she was holding on to the knitting needles and yarn “for dear life,” and neighbor’s friend ran out of a home barefoot and drove down South Hill to stop them.
A local resident and Western student, Harvey Schwartz, came across Mattix’s blue rope of yarn and followed it until he came to Mattix knitting on the bench. He said he found her project fascinating and asked if he could take some photos of Mattix knitting. He made a three-photo collage labeled with the words “Sometimes we think we’re doing something.”
“Christen is such an engaging person, she put me at ease immediately,” said Schwartz, who had been working on a class project about “stretching the limits” in media at Western. He decided to use Mattix as a focus in his short film about artistic drive in Bellingham.
“The thing about Christen is that she is doing something else that no one else is; there is no self-gain. It’s the perfect example of ‘follow your passion’,” he said. “Things we think are important may not be. The process is the important part.”
When the project is finished Mattix said she would like to see the rope passed hand in hand to Bellingham Bay by people in the community, especially those who were kind, supportive, and involved in the project.
She added that she would like to celebrate the project and paint the abandoned bench on which she sits.
“I want to give it a new life,” she said.
As for the knitted rope itself, Mattix said she wants to find an old rustic rowboat to wrap it around to give the look of blue water, and find a place in Bellingham to display it, she said.
Follow Mattix’s project and see her other works at www.christenmattix.com.